Zoo's expansion thrown into doubt as land sale is rejected

EXPANSION plans at Edinburgh Zoo have been thrown into doubt after an independent inquiry rejected proposals for a major housing development on Corstorphine Hill.

The zoo wanted to pay for a multi-million-pound redevelopment project by selling off about a sixth of its land.

But Scottish Government reporters decided the building of 120 homes on the western side of the site would have dramatically altered the character of Corstorphine Hill, spoiling views of the beauty spot.

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Local campaigners welcomed the news, but the decision raised fears over whether the zoo will be able to push ahead with a 72 million redevelopment scheme.

Only a fraction of the zoo land will be allowed to be sold, bringing in less than a quarter of the funds bosses had hoped to make.

The plans called for a string of tower blocks up to seven storeys high to be built, but now less than 20 homes are set to be approved.

Councillors staged a surprise U-turn over the proposals almost two years ago, when the city's planning committee threw out the sale plans, a move branded as a "kick in the guts" by zoo officials.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs the zoo, had been banking on the sell-off as the major source of funding for its long-term ambitions.

A number of features were to be bankrolled by 20m in funds from the sale, including a new entrance, four "biomes" replicating different environments and featuring new animals, research centres and modern, covered enclosures and wildlife trails.

But the Scottish Government reporters said that "the overall number of units and the extent of residential development proposed, particularly in the blocks of flats and the locations envisaged, would place the general character of the green belt and the landscape of Corstorphine Hill at risk".

They ruled that new housing should be limited to a small part of the zoo's western boundary, no more than two storeys high. It should be shielded by existing trees and ruled out any housing being created facing the main road.

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Eddie Price, chairman of the Friends of Corstorphine Hill group, said: "We're delighted at this result, it's pretty much what we were looking for. We've nothing at all against the zoo, but the development they were proposing would have changed the whole nature of the area."

Local councillor Jeremy Balfour said: "We were in favour of some development being allowed to help the zoo raise funds, but not on the scale proposed."

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland declined to comment, with a spokeswoman saying the organisation had only just received the report.

The findings are not binding on the city council, but the planning committee had backed the campaigners, against the advice of the local authority's own officials.

A council spokesman said: "We will put forward our proposals based on these recommendations to the council's planning committee later in the year."